Updated: May 2, 2019 4:07:05 pm
Written by Kate Taylor and Jennifer Medina
From the day in March that prosecutors announced charges against 50 people in a sweeping college admissions fraud investigation, they have held out a tantalizing mystery: an unnamed family that they said had paid the college consultant at the center of the scheme $6.5 million — far more than any of the parents named in the case — to get their child into college.
The student is Yusi Zhao, who was admitted to Stanford in 2017, according to a person with direct knowledge of the investigation. Neither she nor her parents, who live in Beijing, have been charged, and it is unclear whether they are currently being investigated. Stanford rescinded Zhao’s admission in April, and she is no longer a student there.
The person with knowledge of the inquiry said that Zhao’s family was introduced to college consultant William Singer by a financial adviser at Morgan Stanley based in Pasadena, California, named Michael Wu. A spokeswoman for Morgan Stanley said that Wu had been terminated for not cooperating with an internal investigation into the matter and that the firm was cooperating with the officials. Wu did not respond to a phone call.
At a court hearing in March, the lead prosecutor in the admissions case, Eric S. Rosen, said that Singer had tried to get Zhao — whom Rosen did not identify by name — recruited to the Stanford sailing team and created a false profile of her supposed sailing achievements.
She was ultimately not recruited, but Rosen said that she was admitted to Stanford partly on the basis of those false credentials and that, after her admission, Singer made a $500,000 donation to the Stanford sailing program.
Singer has pleaded guilty to racketeering and other charges, for masterminding a scheme that prosecutors say included both cheating on college entrance exams and bribing coaches to recruit students who were not actually competitive athletes.
The former Stanford sailing coach, John Vandemoer, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit racketeering. According to Rosen’s comments in his plea hearing in March, Vandemoer did not help Zhao’s application “in any material way,” but accepted other donations from Singer to his program in exchange for agreeing to reserve recruiting spots for Singer’s clients. Vandemoer’s lawyer, Robert Fisher, declined to comment.
Zhao’s identity was first reported by the Los Angeles Times.
Zhao appears to have participated in a recent conference hosted by the Princeton-U.S. China Coalition. Her biography on the group’s website said she was planning to major in psychology and East Asian Studies and was interested in education policy in China. It added that she hoped to be involved in the Chinese government in the future.
Zhao worked during a recent summer in a biology and chemistry research lab at Harvard, under the direction of Daniel G. Nocera, a professor of energy at the university. Nocera said in an email that Zhao was unpaid and worked for Stanford credit.
At the Stanford campus Wednesday, several students seemed unfazed by the news that one of their colleagues had paid millions to be there. Tamara Morris, a 20-year-old junior studying political science and African American studies, said she was unaware of the Zhao case. Conversation about the college admissions scandal had died down in recent weeks on campus, Morris said, adding that she was not particularly bothered by the news.
“I know how I got in,” she said.
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